Tuesday, November 3, 2009

What I'm Playing: Professor Layton and the Curious Village

Last night I finished Professor Layton and the Curious Village, the puzzle/mystery game for the Nintendo DS. I know I'm a little late -- the game's been out for more than a year now and there is a new Professor Layton game that's already been released. But I will not be playing the second game.

Why not? Because the Curious Village is surprisingly boring. You'd think it was right up my alley. It has puzzles (I like puzzles). It has a mystery (I like mysteries). You can save at any time (I have limited free time so being able to play in short bursts -- which this game is ideally suited for -- is essential for me). And when I saw the original trailer, I loved the art style and the animation.

But I didn't enjoy it. To start with... Hey! Where'd the animation go? Except for the opening cinematics (and the final scene) there is almost no animation. The story -- what there is of one -- is told in a slide show of static images and printed text. And there aren't very many of these either, since the village is pretty small. Get ready to see the same places over and over again.

Then there is the mystery, which is really no mystery at all. About a quarter of the way through the game, the primary "mystery" of the village becomes self-evident. At that point, the game becomes an exercise in slogging through the puzzles and waiting for new areas to open up.

Which brings us to the puzzles. I like puzzles, I really do. But the worst problem with Professor Layton is I don't find its puzzles satisfying. These puzzles are not mental exercises, they are more what I would call "trick" puzzles, similar to the "move two match sticks to form a different picture" variety. (In fact, that specific type of puzzle shows up several times.)

Now you might say that these types of puzzles teach out-of-the-box thinking, where you need to look at the question in a new way to recognize the answer. However, in many cases, you either see the trick of your don't. If you don't, then the puzzle is simply a frustration. If you do, you quickly answer it and move on, without learning much or feeling any great sense of achievement. This is especially true the third or fourth time you have to answer the same type of puzzle.

Quite frankly I find the puzzles in the "educational" titles Brain Age and Big Brain Academy far more animated, enlightening, and ultimately more fun than dealing with the professor and his mysterious village.

So why, you might ask, did I finish it? Well, to tell the truth, I wanted to prove that my guess as to the answer to mystery was true (which it was). And, in fact, the last few puzzles in the game really ramped up the difficulty and required some serious brain power to solve -- and they were subsequently more satisfying to master.

But it was far too little too late to make up for the general tedium of the game. It's a shame. I really like puzzle games and was hoping this one would live up to the hype. But I guess I'll have to keep looking...

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